Feature Women Of The Wild West

Find out more about the women of the Wild West.

Women Of The Wild West

Annie Oakley, Calamity Jane, Belle Starr, Pearl Hart: Toting guns, these women of the Wild West shot down the view that life as a female pioneer was about cooking, sewing, cleaning and caring for children.

Born during a time when women stood in the shadows of their rugged men, these trailblazers proved that they were as good - if not better - than their male counterparts. Some of them became legends as outlaws, shocking society with their ruthless and unladylike behavior.

Martha "Calamity Jane" Canary epitomized this tough rebellious character. Hard-drinking, gun-slinging and bragging of her exploits, she often posed as a man to get ahead. Travelling to the West at the age of 13 with her parents, she eschewed the traditional female role and spent most of her time with the men and joining hunting parties. As Calamity Jane describes it, she was commended by the others as a remarkably good shot and a fearless rider. Later she worked as a scout, donning the male uniform and fighting the Indians.

Earning the reputation of being able to handle a horse better than most men and shoot like a cowboy, she toured with Buffalo Bill Cody and Sitting Bull in the Wild West Show.

Annie Oakley, also made famous in Buffalo Bill's Wild West show, proved a remarkable skill with a gun and made a career for herself that many never imagined could have been done by a woman.

Unlike Calamity Jane, though, Annie Oakley, the Quaker, retained her feminine style of dress with a calf-length skirt, long sleeves and leggings, making it her trademark.

While Calamity Jane and Annie Oakley wielded a gun, they never used it as a threat - unlike outlaws Pearl Hart and Belle Starr.

Pearl Hart was inspired by the strong women of the west, particularly Annie Oakley with whom she became enamoured after seeing her perform. Leaving her children at home in Canada, Hart moved to Arizona and soon found herself engaged in criminal activity as a solution to her financial woes.

It began with minor theft - luring men into her room, after which they'd be knocked out and robbed. Soon Hart and her partner Joe Boot were planning a more elaborate heist - robbing the stagecoach that ran between Florence and Globe, Arizona. While Joe Boot held up the driver, Pearl Hart - with her hair cut and dressed as a man - robbed the passengers.

They were caught, she escaped from jail, and the "Bandit Queen" legend was born.

At her trial she famously expressed her feelings on women's rights, saying: "I shall not consent to be tried under a law in which my sex had no voice in making."

The most famous "Bandit Queen" was Belle Starr, whose association with Jesse James and the Younger brothers, and her extensive list of illegal activity, made her one of the most notorious female outlaws in the Wild West.

Having no use for long, restrictive Victorian dresses, Belle Starr wore buckskins and boots, a man's Stetson hat with an ostrich plume, and proudly displayed her pistols. When not dressing as a man and committing robbery, legend says she spent her time in saloons, drinking and gambling and galloping down streets with guns blazing.

When her husband Jim Reed was shot by a deputy sheriff after being in custody for a stagecoach robbery, Belle put her children in the care of relatives and took up a variety of illegal activities - organizing robberies and harboring criminals. In and out of courts and prison, Belle's life ended in a suitably dramatic fashion: shot in the back while riding home from the store to her ranch.

The incredible tales of these women became folklore, their exploits romanticized and exaggerated in dime novels and later in the musical and motion picture industries.

Though the line between fact and imagination is blurred and often difficult to separate, one thing is clear: these women of the Wild West were pioneers in their own way, challenging the traditional roles of women in the 19th century.